Thursday, February 25, 2010
“Self-Control,” by Mary Brunton
Mary Brunton (née Balfour) (1 November 1778 – 7 December 1818) was a Scottish novelist.
Mary was the daughter Colonel Thomas Balfour of Elwick, a British Army officer and Frances Ligonier, sister of the second earl of Ligonier. She was born on 1 November 1778 in the Orkney Islands. Mary's early education was limited, though her mother did teach her music, Italian, and French.
Around 1798, Mary met and fell in love with the Reverend Alexander Brunton, a Church of Scotland minister, who later became a Professor of Oriental Languages in the University of Edinburgh. Although Mary's mother disapproved of the match, she married Brunton in 1798 and they had a happy marriage, which included companionship and mutual interests. After twenty years of marriage, Mary finally became pregnant at age forty, but she died in 1818 in Edinburgh after giving birth to a still-born son.
Brunton started to write her first novel in 1809. Like many of her fellow novelists, she also recorded bits and pieces of daily life in a journal. In her lifetime, Brunton wrote two complete novels, Self-Control (1811) and Discipline (1814). After her death, her unfinished work Emmeline, along with a Memoir, was published by her husband in 1819.
“Self-Control” is the little-known tale of Laura Montreville, a seventeen-year-old girl living in the Regency Era, daughter of a widowed Captain Montreville. What makes this piece of work stand out from most classics of the Regency Era is the heroine’s strong faith in Christ. Not only does she “talk the talk” she “walks the walk.” There are several scenes of Laura praying, speaking of her faith and following the ways of God rather than the ways of man. When family-friend, Colonel Hargrave, confesses to her of his passionate and violent love for her, and continually pursues her even after she refuses him, it takes all of her self-control to hold fast to the faith she professes.
I really loved “Self-Control” and I consider it on par with Jane Austen’s canon, unfortunately neither the author nor this story has received much attention the last few decades. Published a year prior to “Sense and Sensibility,” it shares a lot of common themes with Austen’s first published work. Like Marianne Dashwood, Laura discovers that though passion and attraction often awakens love, it seldom lasts. She learns that love grounded in friendship, respect and selflessness is the love that never ends. I wish that someone would take notice of this novel and have it reissued into a brand-spanking new edition, the way Bethany House has done with Austen’s classics. The edition I read had the characters’ dialogs running together and it made it difficult to decipher who was speaking. Also, I firmly believe that “Self-Control” would transfer well to screen (hint, hint Emma Thompson, or BBC). Anyway, anybody who loves Austen or “Sense and Sensibility”, I highly recommend this book for you.